image by Heyd Fontenot
Born in a Texas town near the Gulf Coast in 1963, James Dean Jay Byrd moved to New York City in 1988 to pursue playwriting, and had several plays produced at small theaters in the East Village. One of those, “My Pet Homo,” featured RuPaul pre-superstardom.
In 1992, Jay met Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, and the two of them found common ground in their musical tastes, which ranged from church songs to folk to country. They created an act called Y’all, which was part of the East Village NYC Folk Renaissance of the early 90s. Their act was decidedly out, and as campy as it was sincere. Their local performances often featured the CowGirl Chorus, a group of up to 15 women, whose wide-ranging vocal parts were arranged and conducted by Tim Maner of Tiny Mythic Theater Company. Y’all’s annual “Xmas Xtravaganza” benefit concert also featured a chorus of men called the Singin’ Pine Trees. Y’all created a bimonthly show based on TV variety shows of the 70s called “Y’Here” at the Downtown Arts Center, HERE. Y’all were featured on The Jon Stewart Show on MTV and on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. They were named Most Unusual Band (1994) in Billboard Magazine’s annual Best Unsigned Band Contest based on their video entry of “The Egg Man,” a song about John Waters’ character Edie the Egg Lady, created by Mark Bellencula & Lizzie Yoder. They were also commissioned to create and record a commercial to announce MTV’s sister station, M2.
In 1998, Jay & Steven relocated Y’all to Nashville, Tennessee, where they quickly became the Grand Ole Opry-style darlings of the alt-country scene. In 2000, they moved into a 20-foot travel trailer and lived on the road for two years, performing in folk clubs, Unitarian Churches, and upscale retirement homes. During their time on the road, they filmed a documentary called Life in a Box, about their career, their life on their road, and their intimate relationship with a third man, Roger McKeever. After their breakup in 2002, Steven edited the film and it was released and well-received in the festival circuit in 2005.
After Y’all, Jay Byrd lived in Florida briefly and started acting in community theater productions. Then he moved back to Nashville, where he was diagnosed with clinical depression. While there, he started working on a novel called august chagrin, which he completed in Austin, Texas, in 2007, where he had settled in 2005. He didn’t pursue getting the novel published, but would begin reading stories from it onstage with the Austin-based storytelling series, BedPost Confessions in 2010.
Missing being onstage, Jay Byrd started taking improv classes in Austin in 2007, and after taking part in a couple of troupes started acting in theater, first with a play created by several improvisers and storytellers called 69 Love Scenes, which were based on the album, 69 Love Songs, by the Magnetic Fields. From there, Jay Byrd became a regular stage performer in Austin, working with companies such as the Rude Mechs, Rubber Rep, Capital T, and Salvage Vanguard Theater—which produced Jay Byrd’s first solo show, Naked as a Gaybird, in 2015, directed by Jenny Larson, which earned Jay Byrd a B. Iden Payne Award for Best Actor. The following year, Jay Byrd received a second Best Actor B. Iden Payne Award for his portrayal of Arnold, a stroke victim, in Taylor Mac’s transgender kitchen sink dramedy, HIR.
James Dean Jay Byrd began work on a memoir based on his solo show, Naked as a Gaybird, in 2016, then started over in 2017 to create a truer, more authentic memoir, which resulted in the recently completed Fumbling for the Knob. This memoir features several chapters written as playscripts, which Jay Byrd has started performing as a way to help bring attention to the book, and also because he loves to perform. The first of these—the two “solo-show” chapters—known collectively as The Closet Scenes were presented in Hyde Park Theatre’s 2019 FronterFest Short Fringe, performed by Jay Byrd and Kelli Bland (who also directed the production). The Closet Scenes was chosen as one of 10 Best of Fest productions out of 80 or so presented in the festival.
As an author, James Dean Jay Byrd has been published in several literary magazines (see the PAGE link above), and recently performed a version of a chapter live on the RISK! podcast (see the STAGE link above). He is currently seeking a literary agent to represent him and Fumbling for the Knob.